Welcome to my town, or at least a map of it. San Leandro is about 18 miles east of San Francisco. I’ve lived here about eight years. My wife is part of the neighborhood association. Our oldest sonÂ works at a great restaurant (Paradiso’s)Â just a short walk from home.Â Â We’ve madeÂ friends here. We belong.
But the other day I learned new things about this town, by visiting a website called Outside.inÂ that was created by two guys in New York City.Â Their site automatically located me on my first visit and showed me local news and blog links for Oakland –Â aÂ tolerable assumption given that I live a stone’s throw from that city. When I typed inÂ my zip codeÂ San Leandro came into focus.Â When I visited this morning I sawÂ a copy block in the center of the screen aboutÂ comic books –Â and right beneath it theÂ name and address of the comic book shop where my 14-year-old son window shop.
I am wowed. And in a moment I’ll tell you whatÂ I’ve learned about the site and its founders but first let me share my issue: is this how local connections will develop? Through clever, centrally deployed technologiesÂ that allow isolated social units to mingle, atÂ least in theÂ virtual sense,Â through some cyber-intermediary (that will presumablyÂ sell our eyeballs and clicks to national advertisers)? Outside.in is slick enough to work at that business level. ButÂ I want more fromÂ social media. I want community. Real community. Clicking into the cloud to findÂ the localÂ comic store is commerce.Â But is it community? I guess, if by community you mean using Fed Ex to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor.
Setting such angst aside, I’d call Outside.in phenomenal. An article in MediaPost says it was founded by author Steve Berlin Johnson and computer interfaceÂ designer John Geraci. I focused my curiosity on Geraci, and that led me toÂ GlowLabÂ (where arsty-fartsy meets techno-groovy?)Â and from thereÂ I found my way toÂ this snippet:
“John Geraci is a recent graduate of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU whose work investigates location as a vector in communications and social interaction. His prior work includes Grafedia, a platform for authoring hyperlinks on physical surfaces, Neighbornode, the extensible neighborhood network, and the Usophone, an instrument which produces music through skin contact between two or more people.”
MediaPost says the site launched after a four-month beta; is in 63 cities and 3,217 neighborhoods (do they mean zip codes?) and raised “$900,000 in financing from Union Square Ventures, Milestone Ventures and Village Ventures, as well as three angel investors.”
The closest competitor to Outside.in — at least of which I’m aware — is Topix.net, and to the extent that is true, it strikes me that Topix is like the front page of the newspaper while Outside.in would be more like the fun feature pages on the inside. Sorry for the limiting metaphor. I’m a newspaper guy and I realize these onsite sites are alreadyÂ much, more more than a place to read stuff and their ultimate evolutionary destiny remains unclear, at least to me. So I struggle to describe the future by reference to the past.
And here let me just say a few words about community and social media. My desire, my ideal is to see the community-building tools broadly dispersed, like desktop publishing software. Today’s social media sites are at the stage of time-sharing computer systems. I think that will change and the local dispersal of tools and the next round of localization will occur. At least I hope so for personal, political and sociological reasons.
But for now, just thinking of theseÂ centralized-localizes as businesses that are struggling to flourish, I think they willÂ have to look for local champions. I admit that this is my pet idea, the core of my own failed business plans, so take this with a grain of salt. But I believe most people coalesce around other people;Â it is the rare birdsÂ whoÂ flock around ideas.Â Social media engineers must consider how to identify and reward local champions.
ButÂ don’t take that from me. Listen to Slashdot.Â Meanwhile, if any other wanna-be local community builders out thereÂ have a spare cup of sugar, you know how to get it to me.